Saturday, November 18, 2017
News Roundup

Man accused of buying $102,024 Cadillac Escalade using stolen identity

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TAMPA — Some people steal cars. Some steal identities.

Terrell Tramone Brown, 48, did both, using a Texas stranger's good credit and Social Security number last August to buy an SUV from Dimmitt Cadillac in Clearwater, authorities charge.

It was an Escalade valued at $102,024.

The man pictured on the fake driver's license used in the deal was Brown, according to a Secret Service account, but the birth date and other details on the car loan application pertained to victim Craig Woodward.

Woodward's first inkling of trouble came when Bank of America called wanting to know why he kept missing payments.

"I don't think I have a payment with you," he recalls saying. "What car are you talking about?"

Brown, who has a history of convictions for financial crimes, is scheduled to plead guilty June 6 to federal charges.

This wasn't the first time someone had hijacked an identity to snag a car. The FBI broke up an international ring in California in 2014 that shipped the spoils of such crime to Africa: 43 vehicles with a total value of about $500,000.

The luxury Escalade sported a leather interior, cooled front-row seats, heated front- and second-row seats, power-folding third-row seats, a reconfigurable gauge display, a 16-speaker Bose surround sound system and an advanced anti-theft system — though not anti-identity theft.

A Dimmit executive declined comment Friday, so it's unclear how many extras were included.

The joy ride ended in Tampa soon after the Escalade rolled into the middle of a state and federal law enforcement stakeout of a phone store on Waters Avenue that was suspected of churning out fake IDs and credit cards.

Brown wasn't arrested that day, but agents took note of him and the vehicle from afar.

That was Feb. 3.

The next day, Secret Service Special Agent Bryan Halliwell obtained a search warrant for the store. It was based on probable cause, he later wrote, that CellTech Mobile owner Johan Martinez Blanco was operating a "counterfeit credit card and fake ID plant."

The store owner has not been federally charged. The U.S. Attorney's Office said the investigation is ongoing.

The Feb. 5 search yielded a credit card embosser, a credit card encoder, a credit card foil tipping machine, counterfeit credit cards and stolen identity documents, including tax and medical records, Halliwell wrote in Brown's criminal complaint.

There was also a blue photographic background mounted on an office wall for counterfeit ID photos, the record states.

The owner knew the Escalade driver only as "Tank," the agent wrote.

But "Tank" had left a photo behind at the phone store when getting a fake driver's license.

Investigators ran his image through a facial recognition database maintained by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office and found a match.

There already was a federal warrant — for absconding from probation in South Florida, where he had a 2001 conviction for counterfeiting and uttering forged bills. He has served time in state and federal prisons.

He was arrested in late February on charges relating to the Escalade: access device fraud and aggravated identity theft.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Anthony Porcelli ordered Brown held without bail, calling him a flight risk. He is described in Pinellas County jail records as a transient and told Tampa police in 2014 that he lived in West Palm Beach.

Woodward couldn't believe the suspect was still driving the Escalade when caught. He figured it would be long gone.

He was also surprised by the amount of personal information the identity thief had obtained, and puzzled about its source.

"I don't apply for credit in many places," Woodward said.

"This person had my father's address as a reference. He had all my information going back to my business's first address. This is some detailed information. It's not just somebody who got my Social Security number and name."

Senior news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Patty Ryan at [email protected] or (813) 226-3382.

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